Sign In Forgot Password

Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


For out of Zion (and some other Locations, as well) Shall Come Forth Torah


For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending parts of my afternoon, 4 days a week, on-line, taking classes courtesy of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and I look forwarding doing so for the next two weeks, as well.  For many years now, this institution created by the late Rabbi David Hartman, and now run by his son Donniel, has offered a 10 day summer session for rabbis of all streams of Judaism. Textual learning is mixed with lectures and presentations. I know of several colleagues who every July have religiously attended these sessions in Jerusalem. But this year, the pandemic has precluded offering sessions in person, and so building on some of its on-line programming, usually geared to Jewish holidays, the Hartman Institute is offering, “All Together Now”, a 4-week program of on-line sessions, some open to everyone and some for clergy only. The sessions range from ones in which hundreds, if not thousands, watch to more intimate ones with a few dozen zooming in on a session, sometimes centered in Jerusalem; and sometimes from locations here in the United States. One of the side benefits of the smaller sessions is that I get to see some of my colleagues, resident not only in the States but also in Israel. (I should note that Hartman claims that 1,000 rabbis and cantors have signed on for one or more of the sessions and 5,000 non-clergy, including many communal leaders, have also registered for these classes and lectures. The absence of a fee certainly doesn’t hurt.)


In part this represents Torah Lishmah, studying Torah without a material end; just for the joy of studying text, such as the class on the story of David and Bathsheba. But many of the sessions, at least the ones I have watched have some applications, such as one by Professor Israel Knohl, an Israeli Bible scholar, who explored a text at the end of II Samuel about a plague in the time of David: some of that material will undoubtedly surface in a future weekly message or perhaps even in a High Holy Day sermon. And I haven’t even mentioned the ones that specifically focus on the High Holy Day liturgy or have been topical such as the one taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker on climate change. Whereas Professor Knohl was sitting in Jerusalem, Rabbi Tucker conducted his two part seminar from the comforts of his residence in White Plains.


The pandemic has encouraged a wide variety of institutions, including the Center for Jewish History, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Hadar, as well as a host of other Jewish institutions, to offer on-line programming this summer. I encourage you to explore these options. (Hartman has two more weeks; you can check out the schedule and register for a couple of sessions: No grades; just the possibility of broadening your Jewish knowledge in the comfort of your own home.


Shabbat shalom.


Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m.:


Saturday mornings at 11 a.m.:






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Hailing George Jetson’s Car


Nearly 2 years ago I wrote about an Israeli start-up, NFT, Inc., which was developing a fully electrical vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, or in other words a flying car with wings. The company now has a challenger in creating George Jetson’s vehicle. Urban Aeronautics in Yavneh is approaching the challenge from a different perspective.


The CityHawk, which the company is developing as the “Uber of the air”, will neither have wings nor external rotors. Urban Aeronautics has spent the past 15 years perfecting an internal propeller system called Fancraft that takes up less space and is safer for passersby. The CityHawk will be the size of a large SUV, which means that 4 of them could land on the roof of an office building compared with just a single traditionally sized helicopter.


The company has two divisions, one developing drones, and the second, manned craft such as the CityHawk. The Cormorant is a drone which could carry up to 1,400 pounds of cargo, while the CityHawk is being designed to carry 5 passengers and a pilot.


One additional crucial difference between the NFT vehicle and that under development by Urban Aeronautics is how they are powered. The former uses electric batteries. By contrast, the CityHawk will use hydrogen fuel-cell technology. (Hydrogen fuel cells convert the chemical energy of the hydrogen with oxygen and the only residue is water vapor.) It is estimated that the CityHawk could travel 100 miles before refueling, which can be done in minutes.


To date, the company has created a Cormorant demo, which has made 300 flights, but it will be several years before production begins. As for the CityHawk, there is yet to be a working model and the target date for production is the end of the decade, though its CEO Rafi Yoeli noted that getting FAA certification could take up to five years. In short, we won’t be hailing an airborne Uber in the near future.






Payrush LaParashah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-26:51) is read this Saturday, July 11th.


26:44 Descendants of Asher by their clans: of Imnah, the clan of the Imnites; of Ishvi, the clan of the Ishvites; of Beriah, the clan of the Berites. (45) Of the descendants of Beriah: of Heber, the clan of the Heberites; of Malchiel, the clan of the Malchielites—(46) The name of Asher’s daughter was Serah—(47) These are the clans of Asher’s descendants; persons enrolled: 53,400.


26:46 The name of Asher’s daughter was Serah. Serah daughter of Asher is mentioned in the Bible in the count of the Israelites who went down to Egypt (Gen. 46:17) and in the enumeration of the Israelites at the steppes of Moab (Num. 26:46). Aside from this, she takes no part in any narrative, nor is anything said about her. In contrast, there are a plethora of midrashic traditions about this woman and thus the faceless Biblical character becomes a fascinating personality. Her history is intertwined with the story of the migration to Egypt and enslavement, and also with redemption and the return to Eretz Israel [The land of Israel] …


The Rabbis assign to Serah an important role in identifying Moses as the redeemer who would deliver the Israelites from Egypt…. In the midrashic account, Serah helped Moses to fulfill the oath sworn to Joseph, to carry up his bones. When the Israelites were ready to leave Egypt they were occupied in taking booty, and Moses was the only one who was engaged with Joseph’s bones. He searched for his coffin in all the land of Egypt, but could not locate it. Serah was the only one of that generation still alive. Moses went to her and asked: “Do you know where Joseph is buried?” She answered: “They placed him here. The Egyptians made for him a metal coffin and sunk it in the Nile, so that its waters would be blessed.”


According to the Rabbis, not only was Serah among those who came to Egypt and one of those who left it, she also entered Eretz Israel; they use as a proof text for the latter claim Num. 26:46, that includes Serah among the names of those entering the land (Lit. "order." The regimen of rituals, songs and textual readings performed in a specific order on the first two nights (in Israel, on the first night) of Passover. Seder Olam Rabbah 9). An additional tradition of Serah’s longevity has her still alive in the time of King David and identifies her with the wise woman of Abel-beth-maacah…


One exegetical tradition goes even further, declaring that Serah never died but was one of the people who entered the Garden of Eden while still alive, like Enoch, Elijah, and Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah….


The tradition of Serah’s immortality is also reflected in a narrative set in the time of the Rabbis, in which Serah appears in order to resolve a disagreement in the academy (bet-midrash). R. Johanan was sitting in the bet-midrash and expounding the verse (Ex. 14:22): “the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” How could the water become as a wall? R. Johanan expounded that it was a sort of [impervious] net. Serah appeared and said: “I was there, and the water was not as a net, but as transparent windows” (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 11:13)… (Tamar Kadari, “Serach, daughter of Asher: Midrash and Aggadah,” Jewish Women’s Archive: Encyclopedia Dr. Kadari earned a B.A. in Hebrew Literature from the Hebrew University and for several years was a teacher at the Masorti [Israeli equivalent of Conservative Judaism] high school in Jerusalem. After a time, she pursued advanced degrees at the Hebrew University: M.A. and Ph.D in Midrash. As a post-doc, she spent a year at the Center of Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. For many years she taught Midrash at Bar Ilan University. Beginning in 2004 she also taught at the Masorti Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. For the past two years she has served as dean of Schechter’s Graduate School and Lecturer in Midrash and Judaism and the Arts. In addition to her academic duties, she is also an accomplished sculptor whose work has been exhibited in several Israeli galleries. She has published many articles in the field of Midrash, most of them in Hebrew. Her one book—in Hebrew--is entitled Minkhah L’Yehudah: Julius Theodor and the Redaction of the Aggadic Midrashim of the Land of Israel. For the past decade she has been one of a group of scholars working on a critical edition of Shir HaShirim Rabbah, the collection of rabbinic midrashim on the Song of Songs.)


The Land of IsraelErezEe






Questions for Pinchas 5780 (Numbers 25:10-26:51)


  1. Why is Pinchas (aka Phineas) rewarded? What is his reward?
  2. God offers Phineas a “pact of friendship”. The Hebrew, however, reads, “Breetee Shalom, pact of peace.” Is there a difference?
  3. Why mention that the offending Israelite was from the tribe of Simeon?
  4. Here in 25:17 God decries the actions of the Midianites and their seduction of the Israelites. And yet according to 25:1 the Israelites go whoring with Moabite women (aside from the one Midianite princess). Explain.
  5.  Why was a second census taken?
  6. What is different about the population number given for the tribe of Reuben? Why?
  7. According to chapter 26 how did the Korahite rebels die? Is this any clearer than 16:31-35?
  8. What is the import of the statement (26:11) “The sons of Korah, however, did not die?”
  9. Is it conceivable that only Zelophehad was the sole Israelite who only had daughters?
  10. Is it possible that the tribe of Dan had only one clan, whereas every other tribe had several? (Note Genesis 46:23 and the name mentioned there.)
  11. In Genesis 46:21 Becher is a son of Benjamin. Here in Numbers, Becher appears as a descendant of Ephraim. Venture an explanation.
  12. Which tribe suffered the greatest losses during the journey through the wilderness? Which tribe gained the most?
  13. Other than in genealogical lists what names that appear in the list of clans appear elsewhere in the Bible?
  14. One woman is mentioned in the clan lists: who was she and why is she mentioned?
  15. What was the differential between the first census in year 2 and this census in year 40?


Wed, July 15 2020 23 Tammuz 5780